International Community Must Do Better than ‘Strong Message’ on Syria

Article Summary
According to diplomats, the General Assembly resolution on Syria sends a ‘strong message’; but there is no indication Assad is listening, says Sami Kohen. The upcoming ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Tunis must engage the Syrian regime and its allies if it is to have any hope of alleviating the humanitarian crisis, he argues.

‘Strong message’ is a term frequently used in diplomacy. The latest example is the recent resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly that denounces the violent campaign of Assad against his people and calls on him to end the attacks immediately. The resolution also supports the earlier peace plan of the Arab League.

Certainly, it is an important development for the vast majority of the 193-member General Assembly to adopt this resolution against a tiny minority that included Russia, China and Iran. Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding, thus for Syria it has more of a symbolic character.

According to diplomats, this resolution sends a strong message to Syria. The message is the demand of the international community to cease fire forthwith and, bearing in mind his increasing isolation, for Assad to give up power.
The message is loud and clear - but so what?

There is not the slightest indication that the tyrant of Damascus will take this ‘’strong message’’ seriously and respect it. As long as Assad feels Russia, China and Iran are on his side, it is highly unlikely that he will give up anything.

That is the why the Arab League and many other countries, led by Turkey, are trying to come up with a more effective message outside the UN framework. The purpose of the February 24 meeting in Tunisia [called the ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting] is to demonstrate the solidarity of the international community with the people of Syria and to activate various means of pressuring Assad to withdraw. The other important and urgent aim is to organize such measures as “relief corridors” to alleviate the humanitarian tragedy in Syria.

For this meeting to achieve anything, it has to set out a plan of action that will yield practical and concrete results surpassing the General Assembly resolution. The Tunisia meeting should not just come out with a ‘’strong message.’’

Accomplishing this, however, will not be easy. Before anything else, will countries that support Syria, like Russia, China and Iran, participate in the meeting? If not, Assad will feel empowered to continue doing as he pleases and the decisions adopted in the meeting will be difficult to implement.

For example, the envisaged ‘’humanitarian relief corridor” must be accepted by the Assad regime, which must give the necessary permissions and guarantees to countries participating [in the relief effort]. Obviously, you cannot provide humanitarian relief by force.

In reality, and amid all these debates and “strong messages”, what is vital and urgent is to start humanitarian relief as soon as possible. Truly, in places like Homs, Hama and Idlib, the situation is dire. Assad’s heavy artillery have been leveling entire neighborhoods; hundreds of civilians have been killed; hospitals can’t cope with casualties; and hunger and disease are rampant. Bashar al-Assad is proving that he knows how to kill like his father, Hafez.

Yet despite all the diplomatic efforts, the international community cannot end this tragedy. Sadly, “strong messages” do not change anything.



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